In four equally compelling parts, an anthropology professor breaks down the root causes and severe consequences of police violence against people of color in America.
Ralph (Anthropology/Princeton Univ.; Renegade Dreams: Living With Injury in Gangland Chicago, 2014) adopts a personal take on police violence, framing his research and takeaways in open letters to individuals, among them future mayors of Chicago, two random schoolchildren, people who have been tortured and even killed while in police custody, and readers of this book. The epistolary narrative might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but the result is oddly moving, giving context to Ralph’s subject while lending an emotional heft a more scholarly work might have lacked. In one segment of “An Open letter to Chicago’s Youth of Color,” he writes, “You don’t know me. But I know you; or rather, I know what can happen to you. I am writing to all of you because you are the next generation who has to fear violence from the same people who are tasked with protecting you and serving you.” While the author doesn’t always go into specific detail, he writes in the introduction, “between 1972 and 1991, approximately 125 African American suspects were tortured by police officers in Chicago.” Many of the narrative elements that Ralph chooses to highlight are chilling, most significantly “the torture tree,” borrowed from Billie Holiday’s eerie version of the song “Strange Fruit; and “the black box,” an electrical torture device used to send shocks through a person’s body as punishment or to coerce a false confession. From Francis Grayson, who was executed in the electric chair in 1951, to Dominique “Damo” Franklin, who died in 2014 after being tasered three times, hitting his head on a pole, and falling into a coma, Ralph brings necessary light to the problem of police torture.
A damning indictment of the senseless and seemingly unceasing violence committed by those charged with serving the public.